Ways to support employees’ wellbeing and help them adapt to the new way of working

With many businesses now confined to new working practices and routines, prompted by the COVID-19 outbreak, the realisation that this disruption may go on for many months is beginning to set in.

Ways to support employees’ wellbeing and help them adapt to the new way of working

For many who are working from home for the first time, this may be a worrying transition as they say goodbye to colleagues and the familiarity, solidarity and support of office-based working.

Adapting to solitary working will need to be carefully managed and monitored by employers – so while employees may be out of sight, they are most certainly not out of mind.

As homes around the country are transformed into makeshift offices, ensuring the wellbeing of staff will become even more of a priority. 

Here, we look at ways in which employers can support their employees’ emotional, physical and social wellbeing during this long-term period of home-working.

1. Practical advice to getting started and boosting morale

Setting routine

A full-time home-working environment will be unfamiliar to the vast majority of office workers, and employers should do what they can to help employees get used to this new space and reclaim some sense of normality.

Mindset and self-discipline are half the battle of successful home-working, so employers should encourage employees to try and stick to their routine as far as feasible.

Everything from getting up at the same time and carrying out the same morning routine, such as breakfast and getting dressed, can help successfully set employees up for the day. Encourage employees to set a schedule, blocking time off for different tasks, to give structure to their day.     

Highlight the importance of scheduling routine breaks into the day and for taking time out to recharge, be it walking round the garden, reading a book or chatting to a friend. If stepping outside the house for a break, remind employees of their responsibility to follow government guidelines about social distancing. Employees will be more likely to stick to the schedule if there is clear boundaries and breaks will give employees a must-needed boost.

Encourage employees to try to keep their new ‘office space’ separate from the home space and to stick to normal working hours. This will not only help to keep productivity levels up, by discouraging work ‘fatigue’, but will also help employees to establish a normal working day. Setting boundaries will help them to log off and ‘leave’ work by a set time and make clear when to ‘switch on’ and ‘switch off’.

Be wary of trying to micro-manage employees but instead aim to help them plan their own day with time management resources, such as digital to-do lists and time management apps.

Keep in touch

Regular contact is key to successful homeworking. 

Of course, contact is essential for normal business operations, such as conference calls for client meetings and team catch-ups, but contact shouldn’t just centre on work projects, task assignment and to do lists.

Regular contact is important from a social point of view so employees should be encouraged to chat about the ‘normal’ everyday stuff too.

Setting up online tools, such as Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts, will help employees stay connected in a more interactive, personal way than traditional email, with instant messaging and video conferencing functions. 

Online meetings should be regular so that people feel included and valued. In times of uncertainty, anxieties will be at an all-time high, so regular communication and updates are even more imperative.  

Employers can help employees feel a certain level of control and inclusion by inviting two-way feedback and asking for suggestions from employees on the best ways of working for them. As everyone adapts to this new norm, it will be a learning process for both employer and employee and companies should aim to be as adaptable as possible.   

New ways of working, communicating and best practice will undoubtedly evolve over time – but keeping an open mind and open dialogue is key.

2. Physical wellbeing

Fresh air and movement are good for body and mind. Inactivity and being slouched over a laptop or piles of paperwork for long periods of time isn’t.

Physical activity forms part of our daily routine, for example, gym visits and yoga classes. With social distancing and isolation preventing such activities, it can be easy to neglect exercise and miss out on the positive influence of exercise. 

Adapting to the change in environment can be difficult but the advancements in technology can help employees stay fit during these trying times.

Everything from High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) classes to yoga tutorials on Youtube can be streamed on smart TVs, and there are a wealth of exercises that can be performed at home.

Employees can be encouraged to keep their physical activity levels up, with daily or weekly bulletins of suggested workout plans, from armchair exercises to bodyweight exercises. This can help staff to keep exercise at the forefront of their minds and avoid staying rooted to their dining table desk for hours at a time.

Comradery and engagement can be boosted by launching an employee-led support group, where employees can swap tips on different types of exercises, run league tables and share their successes. 

Good nutrition can also fall by the wayside in isolation, so encouraging set lunch times and reinforcing the importance of eating well and staying hydrated via communications is advisable.  Swapping recipes can help bring colleagues together and keep them distracted during isolation. 

Home working environments will likely not be ergonomically designed, so advice on adapting the home working space should be considered. Just as in the office environment, time away from the computer screen is important, particularly in relation to posture and eye strain.

3. Mental and emotional support

There is no doubt that unprecedented lone working could have a negative impact on emotional wellbeing.

We are all social beings and the thought of months in isolation is a worrying prospect for many. For those living alone or already suffering from mental ill health, it can be even more daunting as work may have been a much-needed respite from loneliness or a lifeline from depression, anxiety or panic attacks.

Thankfully, there are many health apps, online support forums, wellbeing webinars and mindfulness tools that can be accessed remotely and in confidence.

Employers can make their staff aware of how to access to these invaluable tools, if they are experiencing any form of stress or anxiety, which may be accelerated through solo working.

Other actions employers can take is encouraging employees to reach out to their support network, such as family, friends and colleagues when they are feeling anxious, low or lonely. They should also avoid rolling news coverage on the outbreak to prevent them from becoming overwhelmed, and try to enjoy the things that normally relax them and make them content.

Trying to promote positivity during this difficult time can also help. Employers can encourage employees to take up something they wanted to do for some time, such as playing a new instrument or learning a new language, and share feel-good messages amongst staff, such as good news stories or positive mantras.

Some companies may look to offer the remote support of their wellbeing champion during this time, clearly outlining how employees can access help, via Skype, phone or messaging.

4. Social wellbeing

Social wellbeing is just as important as other aspects of wellbeing, particularly in such a challenging climate.

Employees spend a great deal of their time with colleagues, so home working can be a dramatic change but efforts can be made to bring colleagues together and stay connected, online. 

Virtual reading groups, video coffee breaks and Skype baking sessions are just some of the ways in which morale can be boosted and spirits lifted. 

Employees can be encouraged to share any good news that they may have, should it be that they have learned a new skill or made a breakthrough on a work task, which can be celebrated with the wider team. With so much uncertainty, it is important to laud small wins and ensure light is shone on positive news. 

Adapting to the change

This is a turbulent time for both employers and employees but never has adopting the power of positive thinking been more appropriate.

Some employees will feel like a fish out of water as home becomes work, and work becomes home.  They may feel cut off, lonely and vulnerable, fuelled by unfamiliarity and uncertainty.

Others may even flourish and relish the peace and quiet – and become far more productive than working in a busy office awash with distraction and noise. It’s important to recognise and support both, and treat employee wellbeing with sensitivity and empathy.

We all want to get back to business as usual but in the meantime, companies should aim to keep minds open, keep communicating and keep positivity flowing.

The author is Mike Blake, wellbeing lead at Willis Towers Watson.

This article is provided by Willis Towers Watson.

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